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Over 123 years after a massacre in Wilmington, North Carolina, one Black victim is finally receiving his due. Joshua Halsey was murdered in the November 1898 Wilmington massacre, one of hundreds of Black men and women who succumbed to white mob violence.  

Mr. Halsey has finally had a funeral to celebrate his life and legacy. He was the first victim to be identified, and until recently, had an unmarked grave in North Carolina. 

Elaine Cynthia Brown, a descendant of Mr. Halsey, said the discovery of his body was “surreal’ for the family. “We were in shock, because this is so unprecedented,” Ms. Brown said in an interview with CNN. “But then we said, ‘You know what? Why not Joshua?’”

Descendants honor murdered ancestor

Ms. Brown added, “Why not be the beacon of what can happen when we sort of unearth the truth, uncover the truth and unpack it? You know, this is where it’s going to start and the stories are going to come out as more victims are found, and we hear their stories. But we now know that it exists. We now know that we can change it. We now are getting the true history of what happened here.”

And the true story is a chilling account of Black victims of White mob violence. According to the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission, Wilmington was at once to a thriving Black community. It included libraries and schools, a newspaper, and even a bank. 

However, that all changed after a local election in which the then-Democratic party claimed power. White men torched the local Black newspaper, and in a coup, forced Black politicians out of their roles. 

Wilmington Massacre

Funeral inspires uncovering of more history

According to a guide of the events, published by the William Madison Randall Library of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, “The events of the 1898 coup marked a turning point in the post-Reconstruction South that changed the trajectory of race relations in North Carolina and marked the start of Jim Crow laws in the state, which further enforced racial segregation through the mid-20th century.” 

The discovery of Mr. Halsey’s identity has led to a continued effort to search for the hundreds of other victims of the 1898 Wilmington massacre. The event also forces Wilmington residents to confront their shameful history — as well as the ever-present systemic racism that exists across the country.

Reverend William Barber II, who gave the eulogy at Mr. Halsey’s funeral, noted, “We must find the vestiges of systemic racism that are still happening today and that are still going on today. And we must call them out in Joshua’s name. I’m here to tell you that what killed Joshua is still alive today.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...